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Where Should I Retire?

Jan. 2, 2021, 5:46 p.m. EST

My husband wants to be by the ocean, but I lived through Katrina and love lakes — where can we (semi) retire and rent for $2,000 a month?

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By Silvia Ascarelli

Dear MarketWatch,

I am really hoping you can help us because we are eager to move, but not sure where. I am 49 and my husband is 45, and I’ve diligently saved so I can semi-retire and spend time with family and travel. Presently we live in New Orleans in a great walkable neighborhood, and we would love something that is walkable.

We have saved $680,000 in retirement accounts, have two homes that we could sell and net $700,000 after paying off the mortgage, and have $70,000 in emergency funds. My husband plans to keep working for medical insurance and money as a school administrator or math teacher. 

He really wants to be near the ocean, but I’ve lived through Katrina and am hoping to get away from hurricanes. I love lakes, and I really like Tennessee. We can’t be where there is a snowy winter. My husband hates the cold.

We are both open to moving just about anywhere warm and near water. Being near an airport is ideal. My husband is black and I am white, so he wants a place that is more inclusive. 

Our housing budget would be around $2,000 a month. We are thinking it may be good to rent vs. buy and use assets to grow.

Where do you suggest we go?


Dear Kerrie,

I understand wanting to get away from hurricanes, especially after all the storms of 2020. But I also see why you are having a hard time settling on a place — once you start looking, you realize there is no shortage of water options. 

So let’s be practical. List some cities or regions that one or both of you love (or because family), make sure there’s a water option and then your husband can start applying for jobs for the next academic year, given that your job is the more flexible one. A job offer might make the decision for you. If there are multiple offers, that’s a great problem to have. 

As you come up with your list, think about life beyond the water. How many in the community are full-time residents rather than second-home owners? What’s the work commute going to be like? Do you want the variety of a big city or are you done with an urban setting? I’m a fan of university towns because I find they punch above their weight on cultural offerings, but a great airport in those towns isn’t a given.

Finally, do you need to have a water view or your own dock? That’s a different price point than being within walking or biking distance, and a short drive away is yet cheaper. 

Water and walkability are two amenities that get buyers to pay up, and even more so now. I’m sure you realize you’re facing a seller’s market. That makes your plan to rent while you get to know an area (and job market) even more sensible. I know it’s a hassle to move twice, but it could save you an expensive mistake.

You may also want to talk to someone — a financial planner, the company handling your retirement accounts or another person you trust — about whether your finances can handle semiretirement and the new lifestyle you envision.

New Orleans is hard to replicate, but I can offer up a range of suggestions, all with healthy job markets. I freely admit I had a hard time narrowing down my list, and I’m sure readers will have other suggestions for you. One thing I’m staying away from is Florida lakes — no alligators, thank you!

You like Tennessee. Instead of a lakefront community, what about seeing the Tennessee River as your playground? You can paddle or kayak on the river within this southeastern Tennessee city. 

More than 180,000 people live in outdoorsy Chattanooga; the same number live in the rest of fast-growing Hamilton County. Livability put Chattanooga in its list of 100 best cities in 2019 .

Not only would you have water, but you’d also have mountains within easy reach: Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain and the developing Cumberland Trail . And yes, there is an airport .

How walkable it is will depend on where you live; Chattanooga’s overall Walkscore of 29 is pretty meh. Walkscore says most walkable neighborhoods are Downtown, North Chattanooga-Hill City-UTC and Cedar Hill. 

If you insist on a lake spot, Chickamaugua Lake, a reservoir with 810 miles of shoreline just outside of town, could be your starting point. Or you can follow the Tennessee River for about 20 miles west to Nickajack Lake, which has 179 miles of shoreline. 

Tennessee comes up on a lot of retirees’ list of where to live because of no income taxes (the last income tax, on dividends and investments, disappears on Jan. 1). Just remember that state and local governments still need money to pave roads, fund schools and pay for services, so look at other taxes and fees, starting with property taxes to get the full picture.

Your husband should like the weather; you might get a trace of snow in the winter, but average summer highs will be in the upper 80s.

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